Obama's n-word race relations explainer melts Twitter, breaks internet

The White House /  Pete Souza
President Barack Obama may have broken the internet with comments he made in an interview for the podcast ‘WTF with Marc Maron.' During a discussion on race in the US days after the Charleston shooting, Obama used ‘the n-word’ in context.

The two men had a frank discussion on a range of topics, but the one that caused the media ‒ and Twitter ‒ to freak out was the part of the interview on race relations in America.

"Racism, we are not cured of it. And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say n----r in public," Obama told Maron.

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"That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination,” the president continued. “Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."

The podcast was recorded on Friday, but released on Maron’s website Monday. Ignoring the context of Obama’s use of the n-word, people began flipping out about the fact that he used it. A small sampling of media that used “n-word” or some version of it in their headlines included: the Associated Press, CNN, BBC, Politico, Time, Talking Points Memo, the Guardian and many more.

“TMZ got right to the meat of it and said ‘f*ck it’ to bothering to mention that it had a context: PRESIDENT OBAMA DROPS THE N-WORD’,” Jezebel noted.

Vox used the media explosion to focus on Obama’s implied criticism of the media in his comment.

“This statement can be interpreted as a critique of the media, as much as anything,” Dara Lind wrote for Vox. “There's much more interest in covering discrete incidents of outright racism than there is in covering subtler but still influential ways that racial bias shapes society.”

Context is important, Obama told Maron during their discussion in the podcast host’s California garage.

“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives… that casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on," Obama said.

Despite the sometimes-overt racism Obama still faces, he remains optimistic about the continued improvements of race relations in the country.

"I always tell young people, in particular, do not say that nothing has changed when it comes to race in America, unless you've lived through being a black man in the 1950s or '60s or '70s," Obama said. ““It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours and that opportunities have opened up and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact."

“If we made as much progress over the next 10 years as over the last 50, things would be better. That’s within our grasp,” he added.

Many have noted that Obama is not the first president to use the derogatory term, but he might be the first to use it without being derogatory… or downright racist.

President Harry Truman referred to then-Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, the first African-American from New York to be elected to the US House, as "that damned n---- preacher." Meanwhile, President Lyndon B. Johnson referred to a civil rights bill ‒ one introduced years before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that he signed ‒ as “the n---- bill.” He also said he talked over his problems with his “n----- maid.” President Richard Nixon was also known to use the term.

The White House released a statement Monday noting that this is not the first time Obama has used the n-word.

"Truth is he uses the term about a dozen times in 'Dreams from my Father'," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said.

The interview occurred two days after 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof killed nine people in a racially motivated attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Along with the discussion on race, Obama and Maron discussed gun violence and mass killings in the country.

READ MORE: America ‘continues to be a racist country’ in wake of SC shooting – political scientist